Don’t Train Sick

Hopefully you are at the point in your training career when you have A) been strength training consistently, B) have recorded your progress in a log, and C) have taken notes on how you feel during that time. The more data you have on subjective feelings and objective progress, the more you can discern whether or not certain events (like binge drinking, not eating enough, staying up all night studying, or participating in the horizontal rambas) have effected your training. You will have learned the difference between regular pain and injury pain (the former can be trained through smartly, the latter should be rehabbed). Now start paying attention to the difference between “not feeling well” and being sick.

“Not feeling well” means you have the sniffles, like a cold. Being sick means you have some kind of bacterial or viral infection. Sometimes you will “not feel well” and it will be the beginning stages of infection — again, you need to learn the difference. It should be pretty clear; having a runny nose, congested sinuses, and a sore throat is different than general fatigue, alternating hot and cold spells, swollen lymph nodes, and general and reverberating body pain. There are many examples of “not feeling well” and infection, but you should know the difference because you’re a fucking adult. The point is that having the “tough guy mentality” in some cases makes you stupid.

Need proof? Here. In any case, tough guys are just stupid people trying to make up for their stupidity with perceived machismo. Eventually they’ll fail (e.g. Debo in the movie Friday).

If you have some kind of infection, whether it be viral or bacterial, your immune system is now hampered with a systemic stress. Bacterial infections can be helped along with antibiotics, yet there isn’t any help against viruses. You’ll just have to wait it out and treat the symptoms. We already know that training, especially the bigger lifts that use the most muscle mass (squat, deadlift, cleans, etc.), produces a systemic stress on the body. That systemic stress is needed in order to get stronger. However, when you have an infection you’re body is already straining to reduce a systemic stress. If you add more stress to it via training (whether it be from lifting or conditioning), you’re going to exacerbate the problem with the additional stress.

Look at it this way: if you only have 100 credits that can be spent on recovery (reducing inflammation, healing things, etc.) and a typical workout will require 75 credits to recover from, and you are experiencing an infection that has already depleted 110 credits, you don’t have any credits to use for training, and you increase your defecit. The system is in a weakened state, and then you weaken it significantly more by asking it to do more when it can barely do less. It’s like a nation being trillions of dollars in debt, and then continuing to spend billions of dollars to try and make money — it doesn’t make any fucking sense.

This is my reaction to government spending

What can you do if you feel that you’re getting sick? I don’t get sick often, but if I feel anything that would indicate a lack of supreme health, stuffy nose or otherwise, I pound water and vitamins. I feel that it has helped me stave off some minor stuff in the past. What if you’re having symptoms of an infection? Obviously don’t go to the gym. We already clarified that it’s stupid because it can fuck you up to the point of hindering progress longer than the original infection would have. While you’re sick, do your best to hydrate and get as much protein in. You’ll have fat and glycogen to use if needed, but you should still try and get protein in. If you have a hard time keeping food down, then do your best. Depending on what you’re infected with, you may feel better the next day. This is not the time to fucking train. I’ve done this in the past and AC just did it the other day (even mildly gloating about it in the PR Friday comments), and now he’s worse off. I suggest getting two days of good food intake before attempting a training session. If anything you’d get a surplus of calories and protein in the days when you can finally eat.

When you resume training, you probably shouldn’t “resume it as normal”. You’ve just been in a systemic deficit; why would you think you can train as if nothing happened? Instead, a very intelligent progression would be doing a light-to-medium workout, a medium/moderate workout, then a heavy workout with days of rest in between. It’s intelligent because it’s patient; it doesn’t do too much too soon. Post-infection training is not the time to start back up on a volume day; just get a light workout in. If you feel great and think you can do more, than swallow your pride (your annoying fucking pride) and hold yourself back. It’s always better to be safe than sorry with training and programming.

I’m not suggesting that you sit out every time you aren’t feeling super. But you do need to be in tune with your body. If you’re thinking the cough is more than a cough, ratchet the workout back or wait till the next day. You now understand that not feeling well and infection are two different things. You know that shit will get worse if you try and train while infected (and you shouldn’t be going to a place where you can infect other people anyway, you dickhead). You know that you can try and manage the sickness by hydrating, getting protein in, and some over-the-counter symptom helpers. You know a pretty good guideline that requires two days of feeling and eating well before training, and you also know that you should slowly progress your training (or your systemic stress) back up to pre-infection levels to optimally resume training. All I can do is tell you this shit. It’s up to you to recognize and react like a smart person instead of a stupid person.

36 thoughts on “Don’t Train Sick

  1. Just to repost these points here and clarify that I wasn’t being reckless or inconsiderate or a dickhead the other day. By the time I went to the gym to train, I had been to the doctor, I had been on Tamiflu for 3 days, I hadn’t had a fever for 2 days, and more importantly, I could actually get off the couch to train. Because I’d already spent several days on the couch sleeping and getting better. Plus, my training involved snatching for 40 minutes. That was it. And, 40 minutes for me also involves a lot of time spent talking. Just sayin’.

    And, I’m the mom of two little kids. I wash my hands all the time. Otherwise, I’d have died of the plague a long time ago. My daugther’s school has flu, chicken pox, and lice going around right now. That’s life.

    I lost 4.5 lbs being sick. I still haven’t squatted heavy. I am sometimes capable of rational thoughts. Rarely, but sometimes.

  2. Yesterday I had an unusual “bad day”. I was certain I had eaten enough the previous day, I had slept well & felt fresh, I was ready to get some work done, but for some reason when I got under the bar I wasn’t able to perform.

  3. I’ve been there, and my “diagnosis” was psychological factors (stress from work, a few financial woes, etc.). I can and have defeated myself before I even get the bar in my hands.

    Wish this article had been published two months ago. It would have saved me some woe now.

  4. Good points Justin. I usually train through sleep deprivation, too much whiskey, runny nose, etc…but last monday I was dizzy, weak, body aches, cold sweats. Had to call it off. Glad I did. Woke up tuesday feeling good, and come wednesday I was able to go hard again.
    Stressing your body when it’s already stressed is no bueno.

  5. Justin, any advice for someone who may have already f’ed up. Two Sundays ago I went for my workout and cut it short because I was feeling pretty shitty…turned out I had an infection. So I was sick for a few days and skipped a workout. The following Friday I got back into it but went in at the scheduled levels. The workout after that was kind of borderline shitty…I’m all kinds of beat up now but not sick anymore. What words of wisdom do you have for this case.

    You, sir, just need some rest. If you took some days off, then just have a light workout and see how your body responds.


  6. Justin,

    what are your thoughts on overreaching vs. overtraining?

    these past few days have been hard for me. i generally wake up at 5am to train. unfortunately, as the body becomes adjusted, i now wake up 5am even on my days off and weekends. i feel it finally caught up to me because this past weekend ive been extremely tired, sick, and cant sleep. im wondering if a break in training is necessary to bounce back from the damage i may have done.

  7. ” It’s like a nation being trillions of dollars in debt, and then continuing to spend billions of dollars to try and make money — it doesn’t make any fucking sense”

    Justin, I am buying a shirt right fucking now. Keeping it real and jackin some steal!

    You don’t get something for nothing, on the platform, or anywhere else in life!

    Now to that shirt.

  8. That video is fucking hilarious. Whoever the dude was deserves a medal because he has UNBELIEVABLE patience. I am far from the over reacting dumb ass that I was as a kid, but I’m afraid he would have got knocked the fuck out a lot sooner.

  9. Hey Justin,

    Feb. 12 will be my first Olympic Lifting meet. I’ve trained really fucking hard for this, and have hit PR’s I never would of cared for in the past, or even thought I would be capable of getting…Last night I was training, and I could barely snatch fuck all..I was missing on lifts that I should be getting normally…as it turned out I got incredibly frustrated with myself, and said fuck it, I’m not feeling it today…packed my stuff and went home to relax and un-fuck my head! Initially I thought it could be the partying I did Saturday night…and the accumulation of training perhaps…I have been going hard for 2 and a half months now…then I woke up this morning with a sore throat, and a stuffy nose..FUCK! This throws a wrench into things as I was planning on training again today to boost my confidence levels, and rid these self-doubts/competition anxieties that are floating around in my head…but now I fear if I let my pride get away with what it wants to do I’ll be fucked 6 ways from Sunday, and worse off then now…I know the smart thing to do is take it easy, but I’m also faced with not having enough training time since the comp is just 11 short days away…I wanted to have a good week of training in, but guess life doesn’t always work in your favor…now I’m posed with the problem of wondering which %’s to start off with when I get back into it..the point I’m trying to make is that I want my confidence levels to be secure with the weights I’m trying to achieve in both competition lifts…Have you ever experienced a similar problem with you or any of your lifters, either with injury or sickness, less than two weeks out from a competition..if so how did you remedy the situation so they were healthy and confident come competition day?

    Thanks bro, appreciate any insight.


    My problem was much worse. I had a back injury that prevented me from squatting almost two months before the meet I qualified for nationals. It was the last meet I would have before nationals, so it was my last chance to qualify. Normally that wouldn’t have been a big deal, yet I had the back injury. I could barely squat. I didn’t lift a whole lot leading into the meet. You know what I did? I went 5/6 with meet PR’s in both snatch and C&J and missed my third attempt C&J because I passed out after the front squat. In any case, I had 14 weeks before nationals. I had to rest my back completely for a week. Then I did strength training TM-style for like 6 weeks. Then I got in a month or so of Oly lifting. I wasn’t as prepared as I could be and did okay at nationals.

    Point is, there are psychological factors here that need to be addressed. It’s totally doable. Let me know if you want to talk more.


  10. The Doctor recommends two weeks of listening to heavy metal, watching Rambo, and eating lots and lots of meat. Preferably meat that you have caught on the hoof and killed with your bare hands.

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  12. This hit home as I am sick as hell right now and was considering doing a light workout anyways. I guess my training is to eat and sleep for a few days.

  13. Just after the New Year I came down with Strep throat. I took a week and a half off of lifting and martial arts and ended up losing close to 10 pounds (I could hardly swallow for 3 days). Coming back after starting to feel better I should have eaten much more and started back gradually. I jumped right back in on my 5/3/1 week and was pretty miserable for it.

    Here I am a month later finally starting to feel good with my lifts but weather has been limiting my MA training. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if I would have kept on lifting.

  14. Justin, what are your political views? And those of the rest of the 70’s Big crew?

    By the way, I laughed at the guy crawling away in the video.

    Briefly, I’d be a libertarian over anything else.

  15. Justin –

    I’m looking through my log, and with notable frequency when I set the big 5×3 squat prs that are extensive grinders with 10+ minutes between sets, I get sick only a few days later. Any thoughts on this? Coincidence?

    Training while sick is the worst thing ever. I would rather train around an injury than do any sort of intense training with a respiratory infection.

    I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence if it has happened multiple times. If you’re still on a linear progression, it’s time to transition.


  16. The other important element in not training sick is that, unless you train at home, you aren’t infecting anyone else.

    A gym is an awful environment for spreading your germs to everyone else, if you’re infectious don’t ruin everyone else’s training

  17. Haven’t had any flus, viruses, infections or bacteria bother me since eating strictly paleo+dairy 8 months ago.

    I used to get cold like symptoms lasting 7-10 days essentially every 2 months or so when I was a vegetarian 4 years ago. Even before that terrible episode I rarely got through a winter without 4 or 5 colds so this is quite remarkable.

  18. Hi

    i’ve been reading the blog for around a year now, but for whatever reaosn i’ve been a right lazy bastard and haven’t created a login.

    I pretty much dig everything that comes out on the site and I especially like the TM posts and todays.

    Keep up the good work.

    Leon R.

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  20. This was so perfectly timed. I’ve been laid out with the flu for four days, and could barely get off the couch to go downstairs. Today’s first day back to work and I was thinking about sneaking in a quick session after work even though I still feel like shit. Instead it’s go home and chow down, since my appetite just came back. (four days without meat was bad, but I couldn’t stomach it at all, really weird)

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  25. I know this is an old blog post but I think that there is something really important that many people don’t think of. Other people.

    If you drag your sick, fluey butt into the gym, how many people are you going to infect with your bug? How many other people are going to end up sick in bed because they feel like death, just because you didn’t have the balls to take a couple of days off?

    So even if you’ve been in bed for half a week, unless you feel better and are reasonably sure that you won’t infect anyone, don’t go into the gym unless it’s empty (that means no people at all)and if you can’t train on your own, don’t go.
    If you do go, take a bottle of disinfectant and make sure that every piece of equipment you touch gets wiped down. Use your own chalk, not the communal bucket.

    Make sure you take the right precautions because it’s not just you who might suffer when you get sick.

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